Does the Personal Representative of an Estate Need a Lawyer?
The personal representative of an estate has significant legal duties in collecting and distributing property and assets of a deceased individual. While Arizona law does not require a personal representative to have a lawyer, there are important reasons for having a probate attorney assist with administration of the estate, including the potential for legal liability if probate laws and procedures are not followed.
Fiduciary Duties of a Personal Representative
When the law requires an estate to go through probate administration, the court appoints a personal representative, following the established statutory priority order. Until the appointment, no one has legal authority to collect or distribute property and assets of the estate. That authority exists only after the court issues letters of personal representative to a specific individual who requests appointment.
Arizona law imposes substantial fiduciary and legal duties on the personal representative of an estate. Fiduciary duties carry an extremely high level of responsibility under Arizona law. Failing to perform the responsibilities can result in legal liability for resulting harm, which is one of the most significant reasons that a personal representative should get assistance from a probate lawyer.
For a specific estate, the procedure and steps in the probate process depend on what type of probate the law requires for the estate. After receiving appointment by the court, the personal representative typically begins by safeguarding all property in the estate, then collecting and identifying all the property in the estate to create an inventory of the assets. Each item must be assigned a value, which sometimes requires professional assistance from an appraiser.
The duties also include notifying certain individuals about probate of the estate, including beneficiaries who inherit under a last will and testament, heirs who inherit by law, and potential creditors. Failure to provide the required notifications constitutes a breach of the personal representative’s responsibilities.
Probate procedures involve paying all outstanding debts and expenses of the estate, as well as filing tax returns and paying taxes. The personal representative cannot distribute property in the estate until completion of all the steps and procedures required by law and by the jurisdiction where the deceased person lived and probate takes place. After distribution, the personal representative requests the court to close the probate.
How a Probate Lawyer Helps the Personal Representative of an Estate
A probate lawyer guides the personal representative of an estate through the entire probate administration process, from taking the right steps to secure court appointment through inventorying the estate, providing notifications, paying all amounts owed by the estate, distributing estate assets, and ultimately asking the court to close the probate. By helping the personal representative navigate through the process, the attorney makes certain that all required processes are followed and all steps are taken properly. Without legal assistance, a personal representative can make mistakes or omissions that can result in liability.
If you lose a loved one, a probate lawyer can also help you even before the appointment of a personal representative. Rather than worrying over legal requirements while you are grieving your loss, you can ask an attorney for guidance. Taking that step enables you and your family to focus on supporting each other during bereavement, because the lawyer will assume as much of the burden as possible. A probate attorney can help you with many estate and probate questions and concerns including:
- Locating and gaining access to the deceased person’s estate documents
- Interpreting and applying provisions of the estate planning documents
- Determining what to do if there are no estate documents
- Evaluating whether Arizona law requires probate, and if so, what type of probate is necessary
- Providing you with an overview of the probate process, so you know what to expect in the months ahead
- Identifying of probate assets and non-probate assets in the estate
- Ascertaining who has priority for appointment as the personal representative under Arizona law
Regardless of what concerns you have about your loved one’s estate, a probate attorney can answer your questions and alleviate any anxiety over legal requirements that apply to the estate. At Peterson Law Offices, your first consultation is always free of charge and without obligation, so there is no reason to hesitate to contact us.
Schedule a Free Consultation With an East Valley Probate Lawyer
Arizona probate attorney Shane Peterson assists clients with all aspects of estate administration and probate, regardless of the size and nature of an estate. If you have questions and concerns about a deceased loved one’s estate, we are here to help. We take pride in offering top-quality, affordable legal services and exceptional client service.
Peterson Law Offices welcomes inquiries from clients throughout the East Valley, including Queen Creek, San Tan Valley, Gilbert, Mesa, and Chandler. Schedule your free initial consultation by calling 480-878-5998 or using our online contact form.